Parliament had a busy sitting this week, with important bills passed regarding the adoption of children in the child protection system, consent laws in rape prosecutions as well as a number of interesting reports and announcements.
Not the Time for Answers
The week kicked off with a noisy Question Time which only demonstrated why it is called “Question Time” not “Answers Time”. The Leader of the Opposition asked the Premier why the surgery waiting lists have nearly doubled between January 2015 and January 2020?
The Premier said, “I do not know where the Leader of the Opposition has been recently, but there has been something called a pandemic. It is a global pandemic called COVID.”
Look at the Dates, Premier
The Opposition pointed out that the time period excludes the COVID pandemic altogether, but it does cover the full term of the Palaszczuk government.
It is concerning that the Palaszczuk Government won’t address this issue when the hospital ramping of ambulances clearly shows that our health system was under pressure well before COVID and it seems to be getting worse.
The Impact of Ramping
We heard of cases like the Indooroopilly woman who tragically died on February 15 while waiting for the ambulance to respond to her 000 call. Ambulances can’t respond when they are tied up at hospitals waiting to admit patients.
We also heard of an 88 year old woman who had a fall and was unconscious for a period of time. Her daughter had written to the LNP to say that she waited three hours for the ambulance to attend. To their great credit, the 000 call centre operators kept ringing back to check on the lady’s status, but they said they had 60 outstanding jobs they could not get an ambulance to.
This issue is serious although here in Gregory we experience it differently because we often have to drive ourselves to a larger hospital where we are then effectively “ramped” in a waiting room as we wait to be admitted, despite our local doctor having already spoken to the receiving hospital.
The issue of our overloaded health system continued to unfold over the week and I can only hope the Palaszczuk Government will start to give it the serious attention it deserves.
New Laws for Rape and also for Child Protection
Parliament passed two very important bills this week, with new laws affecting the prosecution of rape cases in our Courts and an equally important law allowing for Queensland children in care to be adopted.
Adoptions Now an Option
Concerns about what happens to children in the Queensland child protection system have been urgent for a long time. I have had Gregory people contact me to express their disgust at the continuing deaths of children known to Queensland Child Safety. So, I was delighted to welcome this bill which will allow adoption to be an option for such children.
It Wasn’t an Option?
That’s right! Until this bill was passed this week, it was not possible to apply to adopt a child in care in Queensland. This bill establishes adoption as a legitimate option to provide a child with a permanent home. I feel very strongly about this.
If such an option was available to 22 month old Mason Jett Lee, he may still be alive. Since Mason was killed another 13 children known to the Department have died, taking us to 18 deaths in five years.
I feel that ideology has been driving the decision-making when what we need to do is measure every decision by asking “Is this best for the child?”
You can watch my speech here
One Option of Five
While this is an important change, I must stress that adoption is only one of five options, and it is not even the first option. It is the third option for non-indigenous children and the fifth option for indigenous and Torres Strait Islander children where keeping the child’s connection to country and culture is a significant consideration.
Consent and Mistake of Fact Laws
In the last five weeks Australia has seen a rising tide of anger about the disrespect of women and the related issues of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
The Queensland Law Reform Commission had already been reviewing Queensland’s laws in regard to the prosecution of rape cases. A troublingly low proportion of rape cases even make it to court. Of those few cases, the conviction rate in Australia is a staggeringly low 2 per cent, according to The Australian.
Four New Principles
The laws passed in Queensland this week codify four new principles regarding rape cases:
- Silence is not consent
- Consent given can be withdrawn
- When a Court is considering whether a defendant mistakenly believed there was consent given, the Court can look at anything the defendant said or did to ascertain that consent
- Voluntary self-intoxication – being drunk or on drugs - is not relevant to the reasonableness aspect of the excuse of “mistake of fact”.
The passing of the bill was met with disappointment by women’s advocates who want to see the “affirmative model” of consent. That requires both partners to explicitly agree to the encounter. This is the law in Tasmania and Victoria.
Implications for Young Offenders
Youth advocates were also concerned that the laws treat child offenders the same as adult offenders. Shockingly, we have had child offenders as young as 10. There is a big difference between the physical and mental maturity of a 10 year old, a 17 year old and 27 year old, but they are all treated the same under this bill.
This underscores the need to ensure our young people understand these laws very clearly.
The Attorney General has a “taskforce” continuing to look at the related issues, but this bill has codified the issues already arising in Queensland case law.
Government Ads To Go On-line
Treasurer Cameron Dick this week introduced laws changing the Government’s obligations to publicly advertise information such as planning amendments or the awarding of mining or gas leases.
Public Notices Replaced by Online Searching
There is actually a lot of such information that the Government is required to advertise in a way that most people can be aware of it. This is usually done as a public notice in a printed newspaper.
Treasurer Dick’s changes will allow such notices to be placed in either online newspapers or on departmental websites.
Online Monopoly Is Not Equal Access
While that may save the Government money, it won’t fulfil the spirit of these laws – which is that people should be able to become aware of such information in the course of their daily rounds.
No one has time to be constantly monitoring multiple departmental websites or doing complicated searches in online newspapers.
It will also severely disadvantage those people who don’t have online access.
Killing the Regional Newspaper Boom
In discussing the bill, Treasurer Dick highlighted NewsCorp’s decision to take 20 regional newspapers online earlier this year. He said many Queensland communities no longer have a local newspaper for the Government to advertise in.
This is untrue and completely out of touch.
Since NewsCorp shut its regional print editions, 22 new truly, local and independent newspapers have launched.
With these laws, the Palaszczuk Government is removing an important service from these papers and making them less financially viable. It will kill media diversity in rural and regional Queensland all over again.
Automatic Increases on Government Fees and Charges
Treasurer Dick’s draft bill will also change the way the Queensland Government sets out fees, such as for vehicle registration.
At the moment these are expressed in dollars. For instance, the government website says that to register a 4 cylinder vehicle in Queensland you pay $334.50 for the registration fee, $58.35 as a fee for traffic improvement (not sure what that does for us in Gregory) and $351.60 in compulsory third party insurance, giving you a total cost of $744.45.
Treasurer Dick Removes the Wince Factor
If the dollar amounts make you wince, Treasurer Dick has got your back. All such government charges will no longer be expressed in dollars and cents. Instead they will be expressed in “units”, in the way that police fines are expressed as “penalty units”.
This will allow government fees and charges to increase automatically in line with inflation – and you won’t even notice the pain!
Sadly, you won’t be able to pay them in “units”. You’ll still have to use your real dollars and cents.
Auditor General Calls for Budget Timeliness
How ironic that this comes a week after the Queensland Auditor General lodged a report spotlighting the way Treasurer Dick has been operating in secrecy.
Last year, Labor argued it couldn’t release its budget at the end of the financial year, because of COVID impacts. It sent Queenslanders to the ballot box blind. Labor then brought out its budget at the end of November, in time for it to disappear into the summer holidays.
To stop this becoming the new normal, the Auditor General has recommended that the government have a legally required deadline for publishing its financial statements.
Fix Budget Date as Well as Election Dates
Given that we now have a fixed date for all future Queensland elections, we could select a fixed date for these statements to be released so that Queenslanders never vote blindly again.
The Australian newspaper described the response as “lukewarm”. The Under-Treasurer said it would be “challenging” in an election year.
Does this mean it wasn’t COVID impacts after all? It was just too “challenging”?
As the Shadow Treasurer said, “This is not just about the numbers, this is about the truth.”
Debt for Daily Bread
Mind you, the Auditor General is not upbeat about the numbers either. He pointed out that in 2019-20, the Queensland government was forced to use borrowings to pay for operating expenses and to fund its day-to-day activities.
As David Crisafulli said in his budget reply, we are using borrowings to keep the lights on and put pens on desks.
Coal Seam Gas and Regional Interests
The Queensland Audit Office has also been having a look at the operation of the Regional Planning Interests Act 2014. This is the Act that is supposed to protect our strategic cropping land and other regional interests.
This means it is key to the interaction of the mining and coal seam gas industries with agricultural landholders.
Is the Act Working?
The Queensland Audit Office has now recommended the GasFields Commission Qld review the CSG assessment process under the RPI Act. Specifically, it needs to look at whether the legislation provides consistent land classifications, whether it does adequately address regional interests and whether there are adequate exemptions available in the assessment process.
Exemptions for Ag or for CSG?
That last bit can be read two ways. I would ask “Exemptions for whom?”. Under the Palaszczuk Government not one gas or mining application over strategic cropping land has ever been refused. I support the call by the QFF for clear, non-discretionary prohibitions where there are key regional interests like strategic cropping land.
This will not have a dramatic impact on CSG, but you can’t restore strategic cropping land once it has been disturbed.
Queensland COVID19 Cases Hit 67
On Tuesday, Health Minister Yvette D’Ath told MPs that Queensland had 60 active corona virus cases. By yesterday, this had risen to 67 – with one in ICU.
I think this must be the highest number of cases since the first outbreak last year.
Forty two of these are travellers from Papua New Guinea where corona virus cases have tripled in a month. The official estimate is about 4,000 but this is widely thought to be too low.
Concerningly, PNG’s frontline health workers are being hit, so I’m pleased to see that the Australian government is actively assisting in PNG.
Meanwhile, the Queensland Government has rushed vaccine to our Torres Strait islands, some of which are only a few kilometres from PNG.
Where Are Our Vaccines?
The Courier Mail last Saturday reported that Central Queenslanders have been asked not to call their local doctors about COVID19 vaccinations. I must admit I’ve been getting a few calls too, so let me explain the arrangements.
It is not that we are stupid. It is just the arrangements in western Gregory are different to the arrangements in the rest of Australia and from the arrangements for the Central Highlands in eastern Gregory.
Western Queensland left Un-Phased
For most of Australia, the Australian Government is rolling out the vaccinations in phases. Not only does this make the real world logistics of transport, storage and delivery a little easier to plan, it also makes sure “the vital and the vulnerable” are done first.
It is a smart way to go about it.
But in the parts of Australia where populations are low and people live remotely or very remotely, it doesn’t work. You wouldn’t vaccinate grandad and then come back twice to vaccinate the next two generations in turn.
So in Gregory, from Alpha and Jericho west, there will just be vaccination clinics open to all.
But for people living in the Central Highlands, you will be vaccinated in phases like the rest of Australia.
Central West – Over the Great Divide
In Gregory, if you are west of the Great Divide, the majority of vaccinations will be done through clinics set up by the Central West Health and Hospital Network together with the RFDS and the Primary Health Network.
These vaccination clinics are underway already and aim to bring the vaccination as close as possible to where people live.
Where will the Vaccine Clinics Be?
They will be held in the following centres: Alpha, Aramac, Barcaldine, Bedourie, Birdsville, Blackall, Boulia, Isisford, Jericho, Jundah, Longreach, Tambo, Windorah and Winton.
The Clinics will be free and open to anyone over the age of 18. Anyone who wants a vaccine will get one, but we must be patient and orderly about it.
The clinics will be widely advertised and you can see upcoming clinics on the CWHHS vaccination webpage already. Just click here
How Do I Book for the Mobile Clinic?
While the vaccination is free, you can’t just turn up without a booking.
Use the CWHHS webpage to do this by clicking here. It asks you to email your details to secure a booking. You should send a separate email for each person wanting a vaccination.
If you don’t have access to email, you can ring 1800 953 703.
Initially, Australia was relying on imported vaccines while we brought our own manufacturing on stream. These are the vaccines used in the first phase.
With the EU mucking up their own vaccine purchase, they have now resorted to blocking the export of vaccine manufactured in the EU to selected countries.
They want to keep EU-manufactured vaccines for EU citizens. In trying to correct their mistakes, they have blocked shipments intended for Australia. Thankfully, we also have the capacity make our own right here.
Locally Made Looking Like A Great Call
Having completed safety testing, this week the Australian authority gave its full approval to the Astra Zeneca vaccine which CSL is manufacturing in Victoria. This secure Australian supply will let us ramp up our vaccination roll-out.
Phases Not Stop/Start but Overlapping
With a secure supply, it is not necessary for one phase to be completed before the next phase starts. Phase 1 A has been underway for a couple of weeks now, but Phase 1 B started last Monday. You can read about the different phases in detail here .
Who Is Phase 1A?
Phase 1 A is the vaccination of frontline health workers, quarantine workers and commonwealth employees who are likely to be in contact with overseas travellers.
It also includes aged care workers, disability workers and the people that they serve.
Who is Phase 1 B?
Phase 1 B will see the vaccination of Adults 70 years of age and more, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of 55 years and more, Adults with specified, underlying medical conditions and critical workers including the defence force, police, fire and emergency services and meatworkers. The last one is because their working conditions make them particularly vulnerable.
Who will give me my Vaccination on the Central Highlands?
In most areas of Australia, GPs will be giving the vaccinations. However, in Gregory our GP workforce already has full patient lists. Most just don’t have the workforce or the hours in the day to deliver a mass-vaccination program while still looking after their patients.
The mobile clinics solve the problem in the west, but for the Central Highlands it sounds like there will be a combination of clinics and GPs in different locations.
Only one GP clinic – the Emerald Medical Group at the GP Super Clinic in Emerald – will be giving COVID vaccinations at the GP practice.
The CQHHS and the Primary Health Care Network are planning the roll out for all the other towns on the Central Highlands. They weren’t able to give me the details at the last briefing, but I will let you know as soon as it becomes clearer, as there is no information on the web site yet.
GP Vaccination in Emerald
If you wish to book a GP vaccination in Emerald at the Emerald Medical Group, first check that you are eligible for the current phase of the vaccine. You can do that by clicking here
Remember you have to check your eligibility, because it is a phased roll out. It is a phased roll out so we can estimate how many doses we need to supply in a given phase, as well as ensuring we vaccinate the most vital and the most vulnerable first.
Special Gregory Congratulations
I want to offer my warm congratulations to two Gregory winners and to the companies sponsoring these awards.
Commonwealth Bank Teaching Award
Rebecca Godfrey, the wonderful principal at Blackwater State High School has been awarded a Commonwealth Bank Teaching Award. The Award brings a $45,000 Teaching Fellowship including $25,000 towards a strategic project for the school and the opportunity for Rebecca to undertake further professional development. Rebecca will also be able to participate in a group study tour to high performing schools.
This is not only a well-deserved recognition of Rebecca’s talent and dedication but it brings real benefits to the entire Blackwater State High community. Well Done!
QCoal Foundation Scholarship
Congratulations also to Holly McLean of Emerald who has been awarded the $30,000 QCoal Foundation Scholarship for 2021. Holly was educated at Emerald State High School and this year commenced the first year of a five-year degree course at JCU’s Cairns Campus, studying a Bachelor of Dental Surgery.
Holly is the sixth recipient of the Scholarship and was selected from an outstanding field of candidates across a range of disciplines. Holly is passionate about bringing the skills and knowledge she gains in her studies back to rural and regional communities. Do bring them home Holly. We need you.
Remember you can find a range of scholarships and grants on my website at www.lachlanmillarmp.com
Free QCoal RFDS Dental Clinics
While mentioning QCoal Foundation, I must remind people that their mobile dental clinics will be visiting the Central Highlands in April and May:
Springsure 6 April – 16 April
Sapphire 18 May – 28 May
The Clinics can be accessed by all people living or working within these communities. The dental care is provided at no cost to the patient. To book an appointment, please phone 1800 953 703.
BreastScreen Qld in Gregory
Gregory women are invited to take advantage of a free breast screen at the mobile BreastScreen Qld service in the following towns:
Longreach – Currently in town until 14 April
Winton 16 April – 27 April
Barcaldine 29 April – 14 May
Blackall 18 May – 28 May
Tambo June 1 – June 3
Capella June 4 – June 15.
You can book an appointment by clicking here
Easter Road Safety
With Easter and the school holidays upon us at the end of next week, I just wanted to wish you all a happy easter and beg you to take care on the roads, both at home and away.
Our tourism season has officially begun so there will be lots of visitors seeing some of the wonderful attractions of the Outback.
Families will also be on the move right across Queensland.
Road Toll plus 15
Our current road toll is 15 more than this time last year. Last weekend alone we had nine deaths in 48 hours. If you are driving, take regular breaks, don’t speed and don’t drink or drive tired.
And every pothole you see is just a small part of Labor’s $6 billion road maintenance backlog.
Thanks for Reading
Thanks for reading about the state issues that affect us here in Gregory.
If I can be of any assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact me.
You can email at [email protected] or ring me: Longreach 07 4521 5700 or Emerald 07 4913 1000.
And if you no longer wish to receive this email, simply click on the link below to unsubscribe.
Kindest regards – and I hope the Easter Bunny finds you!
Lachlan Millar MP
Member for Gregory
Assistant to the Leader of the Opposition
Shadow Assistant Minister for Western Queensland
Deputy Chair – Queensland Parliamentary Transport and Resources Committee